Obviously no stranger to controversy, Ye’s latest off-script ramblings have gone too far, according to anyone who isn’t Candace Owens. To quickly recap, post-Trump-supporting Ye has held a fashion show in Paris last October in which he presented a line of “White Lives Matter” t-shirts, got suspended from Twitter for anti-semitic remarks and just recently took to his Instagram to state his pseudo-apology.
Despite his more than questionable remarks, Ye is also credited as being one of the greatest artists of our generation. His music has changed the face of rap and hip hop from his spellbinding debut album The College Dropout to his incredible use of samples on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, without forgetting every other album in between and after. His cultural impact spans further than music though, with his Yeezy sneakers becoming a marker of popular culture during the 2010s and his viral Tweets becoming some of Internet’s favourite jokes. Combining both his musical talent and cultural status with his harmful political opinion, the timeless question arises: can we separate art from the artist?
Though popularised during the New Criticism wave in the 20th century, this discourse of separation is as old as art itself, with questionable artists creating some of the most beautiful art works that speak to so many – think of Rex Orange County and his recent sexual allegations or even Frederik Nietzsche who has become a pillar of 19th century philosophy despite the fact that some of his writings depict anti-sematic views. No matter what the medium of art, artists who have committed wrongdoing will unfortunately always be present.
That isn’t to say that watching a Woody Allen movie makes you think it’s okay to marry your adopted daughter or reading J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter automatically makes you transphobic. There can be a sense of appreciation for a work without necessarily agreeing to the author’s worldly opinions. However, simply stating “you can separate the art from the artist” feels like an easy cop-out not to question the artists we are supporting.
Whether it is through streams or product purchases, supporting an artist, even if it is just financially, enables that person to continue their wrongdoings through their already immense platform. Further than that, art is a deeply intimate practice that is an extension of the artist themselves, their own personal stories and life experiences. When Kanye rapped “But I’m a champion, so I turned tragedy to triumph / Make music that’s fire, spit my soul through the wire” on Through The Wire, he was referencing his real-life experience of having his mouth wired shut after a near-fatal car crash that took place in 2002.
While it’s easy to boycott an artist you have no particular interest in, and say “just stop listening to Kanye”, for fans that have been listening to the artist for over a decade, resonating with his sound, it’s not so easy. As mentioned, music, and art, is deeply personal, tapping into real-life experiences and emotions. The power of art lies within the ability to touch others through evoking feelings, no matter what they may be. So, we become emotionally attached to certain songs because we find ourselves relating to it on one level or another, and that attachment doesn’t go away when the artist finds themselves in trouble.
Here’s a question we must all ask ourselves: is the art we are consuming greater than the harm being done to those wronged by the artist? The answer, most of the time, is no. Yet, we still find ourselves gravitating towards their art. So what do we do?
The first step is to hold the artist accountable for their actions. While you can recognize that bad people can make great art, it’s important to remember what bad these artists have actually been doing. Is Ye really the GOAT? No. But does his music still slap? Sure. Being aware of the issues at hand, and not shying away from calling the artist out on it, shows a level of critical thinking that is needed in these kinds of situations.
Though accountability is necessary, is it really going to change the artist’s wrongdoings? In Ye’s case, having people tell him they don’t agree with him will only serve as an ego-boost to go further against the ‘popular’ opinion in his contrarian nature. Perhaps the one of the best resolutions to this issue came from a very unexpected place: out of Pete Davidson’s mouth on an SNL sketch. The actor and comedian was discussing how he still listens to certain artists even after they have been outed for serious wrongdoings, not because he condones that kind of behaviour but because he grew up listening to their music. So he suggests one rule: every time we consume art made by a problematic artist, we should donate $1 to a charity that supports the victims that have been caused harm by the artist’s actions.
More on CULTED